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“The Spiral of Sustainable Excellence”

 In this still-relevant article, written in 2004, author Paul Light posits that nonprofits reach five stages - or “landings” - on the climb to greater impact, in which they:

  1. Create a presence in their environment;
  2. Expand in size and scope;
  3. Focus in on what they do best;
  4. Strengthen their internal infrastructure to prepare for unexpected events; and, finally;
  5. Address issues further off on the horizon, like executive succession and the organization’s legacy.

Light does not envision this as a linear, continuous progression, but as a “spiral staircase,” and explains that not every nonprofit will progress through each successive stage quickly, or at all. Some may never reach the “reflective phase,” in which notions like organizational legacy are pondered. Significantly, he points out that organizations may sometimes move down the spiral, due to changes in internal or external circumstances.

The author describes how his notion of the development spiral was formulated and provides in-depth descriptions for nonprofits at each of the five stages, which he labels Organic, Enterprising, Intentional, Robust and Reflective nonprofits. The article includes concrete examples that illustrate how real nonprofits at each stage have overcome challenges and reached their full potential.

In conclusion, Light reflects on lessons learned from the nonprofits he studied, including the importance of recognizing that your organization has the potential to move both up and down the spiral, and preparing for such eventualities: “Indeed, one of the ways in which robust and reflective nonprofits prepare for misfortune is to plan for it."

Read “The Spiral of Sustainable Excellence”

Posted in Leading

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